The recent financial crises have affected everyone in the maritime industry. Jobs are scarce, though every day you might hear in the news that some top-notch company took in five new ships or increased its pool of employees. Strange it might seem to be, the fact remains that the grey clouds of unemployment are still not completely off the marine market place. The top rank professionals will swim smoothly, as they have always; however, those at the bottom has and will have to bear the brunt.
Talk to a freshly graduated junior engineer or deck cadet and I bet the only thing you would hear about is getting a decent break (or even on any damn shitty ship would also do). They want jobs badly, I mean really bad! And why would they not? There are many who have taken loans for their maritime training and even have mortgages to clear off. In fact, that is what every one of us would do once we pass out of college. Look for jobs! Right?
Unfortunately, the “situation of crises” has become a breeding ground for job agents and fraud shipping companies to do a profitable business. They are charging $2000-$3000 dollars in return for a break; not to mention, one cannot expect it to be in some hot-shot company.
Sadly, these fresh graduates have started to succumb to the situation, and have even started considering shelling out the “asked price”. Result? Some have already received the much-desired break, some are looking for sources to finance them, and some have fallen prey to fraud agents and shipping companies, who have taken the money and disappeared into thin air.
It’s a grim situation out there, where no one knows what to do and whom to blame. So, as the blaming-game continues, we try to pen down seven important points that we believe have been the real reason for the present dilemma.
1. Supply & Demand Imbalance
It might sound cliché, but the fact remains that the lack of equilibrium between the supply and demand of fresh professionals in the marine industry is the main reason behind the dearth of jobs, especially for new graduates. Maritime academies are churning out marine engineers and deck cadets, doing their jobs pretty well and making huge profits, irrespective of the market condition.
However, they can’t be blamed because one cannot shut the Institute for one year and then re-open it again whenever the need arises. Today, the need for deck cadets is less, tomorrow it can be more. So who is to blame? Probably the authority that gives them permission to open new institutes every month is at fault. However, the bottom line is until a balance is created between the demand and supply of seafarers, the scarcity of seafarer jobs will persist.
With the industrial boom in China starting from 2004, there was a huge increase in the number of ships and the freight rates were off the charts during that time! Shipping is a cyclical industry, the boom led to a bust and thereafter, ships without a viable business. Now, the demand for a senior officer is still there but as far as junior officers are concerned (including cadets), companies ask for experience without even considering that the experience will only come from employment! Expecting experience before the experience is just ridiculous!
2. Inability of the Governmental Authority to take Concrete Steps
Governmental authorities should take concrete steps to solve the issue of unemployment for fresh graduates. Or else, merchant navy would slowly lose its position as a prospective career option among students (the fact is it has already lost its lustre to a certain extent).
It is high time the government takes a stand to help the freshly graduated cadets and engineers for getting placed in decent companies. Until this is done, both agents and shipping companies will not miss a single opportunity to earn profits from maritime professionals. The government needs to intervene and help these professionals with a decent break.
Even with regard to the examinations, the Governments need to overhaul the system and make it more transparent with a practical approach towards testing the value a seafarer may bring to the industry and not just their “mugging up” capabilities.
Regulations regarding employment and the upkeep of standards of institutes and its students are a first to ensure that the cadets graduate with the right skill set and do not go on a ship without adequate knowledge. Institutes of the yesteryears have produced stalwarts in the industry who, even with the dynamic changes in the industry, are still at the forefront of any available employment demand.
3. Lack of References = No Job Offer
Shocking but true, the trend of getting jobs using references is still a hot favourite method of getting a decent job. There have been several cases wherein average students have got jobs in top shipping companies because they have father or uncle working there as chief engineer or captain; whereas bright students are still jobless because either they don’t have a family member in the industry or lack hundred of dollars to pay as a bribe.
Either way, an unjust and unfair condition is being created which is eventually making the present situation grimmer. Though people might shout slogans against corruption or even get themselves enrolled in a debate against the same, the fact is, when it comes to a personal level, the definition of immorality changes, drastically.
While the aspect of networking is necessary for any job, it should be the only way into gaining a cadetship. While the value of networking is immense in today’s environment, merit and quality must always trump “daddy’s contacts”. It is one thing for it to be taught as a soft skill and another when it is the only way in.
4. Shipping Companies Showing No Respect for Fresh Graduates
Let’s face the fact that a certain shipping company hires a fresh graduate with the sole intention and hope to retain him or her as a third officer or a fourth engineer once the necessary certifications are achieved. The companies don’t entertain newly graduates as respect to the degree or training they have. Don’t believe me? Visit a shipping company or a ship and see how the cadets and junior engineers are treated and you would get to know what I mean. We agree that they are fresh and naive, but they are future officers and captains. Give them their due respect.
The moral of the story is until the companies stop treating young professionals as “liabilities”, the loyalty will not have a place in the employer-employee relationship, leading to the reduction in retaining the power of the company. Give respect, and get respect in return.
Companies must understand that throughout their time at the educational institutes, they have been taught to behave and be trainee officers and have dreams about being the skipper on board one day. Demoralising them by treating them like dirt only kills their enthusiasm and their attitude towards their job. Needless to say, taking pride in their company and their job only breeds more loyalty and quality which must never be compromised. Even onboard, expecting cadets to work relentlessly with the agenda of “learning” while they are paid a small sum in comparison is not a good practice. Learning is obviously the most important aspect of cadetship but it should be executed in a way that is respectable to the human dignity.
5. Unwillingness/Inability to Enter a Different Market
Unlike other fields, wherein graduates have options to enter other industries and domains, a seafarer is left with no other choice than to stick with the same field. Merchant navy is a specialized field, where only two types of people are found – one who loves money and one who loves the sea. So once a person shells out hundreds of dollars for his maritime training, he or she is least interested to explore other fields wherein the starting salary wouldn’t be even half of that offered in merchant navy. Moreover, the glamour attached with the field is also something that holds back maritime professionals to explore other domains. Try talking to a dozen of Mariners; each one would talk about leaving the field, but I bet none would do so. Probably that’s why they say, “Once a mariner, always a mariner.” Moral of the story- there are several other opportunities as well. One needs to look beyond his or her mental block.
But this is just one side of the story. Most of the fresh maritime professionals won’t be able to land themselves with a decent job on land because the skilled they acquired are of no use on land. A marine engineer might be able to find a way, but a deck cadet will have a tough time making his way through the highly competitive market on land.
Granted, there are multitude of options when it comes to switching jobs with the help of GMAT and an MBA. However, why drive away individuals at all? Shipping the backbone of the world economy and the need to divert should be an option considered out of the desire for personal advancement rather than a effect due to a bad situation
6. Improper/Inadequate Training
This might come a bit blunt on the fresh cadets and engineers. But lately, there has been a huge lapse in the quality of cadets and engineers that maritime institutes are producing. Ask shipping companies, and they have a list of complaints about fresh graduates. Probably that is just an excuse on their part; probably it is true, but the fact is maritime institutes today are more interested in quantity than quality. They believe a certificate is all that one needs to run a ship at sea, irrespective of the kind of training and skills a Mariner has.
Though it’s true that experience is the best teacher, a fresh seafarer should have the basic skills to ensure his or her safety on the ship. Most of the fresh seamen are still “Alice in Wonderland” when on a ship, increasing shipping companies believe that they really are nothing but “liabilities”. But the cadets and engineers are not the only ones to blame. It’s the slack policies of institutes that are to blame. And until these institutes tighten the loose ends, the shipping companies will not show their trust in the fresh graduates.
The stark difference in officers now and the skill-sets they come with as compared to the older lot is evident. While institutes have fancy aspects of ACs and wifi and all of that, the basic essence of quality training is far more important, rather THE MOST important. Many institutes have cropped up with sub standard training facilities and teachers and continue to produce sub par cadets. It is not uncommon for cadets to face difficulty during oral examinations owing to the limited teaching imparted to them at their respective institutes.
7. Maritime Institutes Flaunting Fake Promises
How often have you seen maritime institutes flaunting one liner such as 100% placement Guaranteed? Always, right? And how often have you seen the same institutes going back on their words when they are not able to provide placements? Same – always! Like every field, institutes in the marine industry have also learned the ropes of the game to allure more students to their courses. They know how to attract students by giving fake promises or showing big starting salary figures, without debriefing them about their future career or life at sea. Every year more and more students are falling prey to this traps and finding themselves stuck in a catch22 situation. End Result: Dissatisfaction, depression, and of course – the great unemployment!
Deck cadets and junior engineers are the lifelines of the maritime industry. With the higher rank holders showing less of interest in the sea life and moving towards land jobs, these fresh graduates would have to be at the helm of the industry one day. It is high time the authority took some drastic steps to give these professionals their due respect and place in the maritime industry.
Institutes that provide”100% Placement” must be vetted for the same. Cadets must also remember that there is a HUGE difference between “100% Placement” and “100% Placement Assistance”. The latter is most likely riddled with no promises at all in fine print!
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